Other Maestros of the Micro

  • Share
  • Read Later

Salesmen and seers, they are in the vanguard of the revolution

It took more than one man or one company, of course, to turn the personal computer into the engine that is powering a new communications revolution. Apple's Steve Jobs is the most famous maestro of the micro, but other personalities played key roles in bringing about the Year of the Machine:

John Opel: Shaking Up the Giant

If any three letters can be considered synonymous with computers, they are IBM. Still the world's dominant computer firm (and eighth largest industrial company in the U.S., with earnings of more than $3 billion in 1982), International Business Machines produces some 65% of the country's mainframe business computers and an estimated 62% of those sold worldwide. But in one area IBM had long been conspicuously absent. Except for a brief, abortive fling in the mid-1970s at selling a small desktop machine called the model 5100 (cost: up to nearly $20,000), the corporation left the personal computer field to upstart firms like Apple and Tandy.

Now, under its aggressive new chief, John R. Opel, 57, IBM has launched itself in a new direction by marketing a small, low-cost personal computer. The creamy white PC (for personal computer), introduced in August 1981, has set a standard of excellence for the industry.

Even Opel finds it all a little amazing. Says he: "Who would have believed ten years ago that we'd have computers in the home?" With his professorial manner and horn-rimmed glasses—he is known as the Brain among colleagues—the mastermind of IBM's policy shift hardly seems the sort to upset an Apple cart. The son of a hardware-store owner of German descent, Opel joined IBM in his home town, Jefferson City, Mo., in 1949 after studying at nearby Westminster College and getting an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. For ten years he ranged from the Ozarks to the Iowa border, selling IBM products so successfully that he was called to corporate headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., to become assistant to Tom Watson Jr., IBM's president and son of its founder. Opel has been on the rise ever since, becoming president in 1974 and chief executive officer in 1981.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5